FORT SMITH — Bill and Jo Neumeier closed Neumeier Nursery and Florist last month after 54 years in thriving business.
The nursery started out of the home of married couple Bill and Jo Neumeier in 1968. Soon, their three children and the greenhouses outgrew the space. They moved their home and business in 1976, almost directly across the street, to the historic 3327 N. O. house, which was built in 1904.
The five acres provided the perfect location to add greenhouses and open a flower shop in the original carriage house.
Jo Neumeier recalled that Bill was against owning a flower shop, having worked in one when he was in college. She said a friend was interested in working in the floral department for them, but Bill said not until he died or a soft drink fell from heaven.
“So a cooler fell from heaven,” she said. “It really did. Bill’s brother worked for a company that took stuff out of storage buildings that people didn’t pay for, and they said ’empty it and throw it away.’ Well, one of them had a cooler in it. A big cooler , old. So he went over here and said “I just can’t take this to the dump. That’s very good.” He said ‘would you like it?’ So Bill called my friend and said a cooler fell from heaven. Two weeks later, he came to work for us.”
The Neumeiers’ daughter, Lisa Hearn, noted that the friend was Clancy Armstrong, who later started Expressions Flowers of Garrison Avenue.
Jo Neumeier said they didn’t even have a compressor for the refrigerant for a while.
“So Clancy would come to work every morning with a big block of ice, and we’d put a fan in the cooler and blow on the ice to keep our flowers fresh,” she said. “We did this every morning. And finally, we had enough money to buy a compressor, so we put it on, turned it off, and worked.”
Hearn recalled other unusual times living and working at the nursery, including making pots from the roof for customers to take home because plastic containers weren’t made then. They also became recyclers early on.
“The kids learned to be humble because we went to high school at St. Boniface School, they got those cans from the lady in the cafeteria,” Hearn said. “So she’d throw the beans and the corn, and we’d be with those nasty cans in a black plastic bag after school, and I’d say, ‘Please don’t let anyone see us.’
Jo Neumeier said the nursery saw a boom in business in recent years due to Covid-19 and people having more time for hobbies. She said that it is good to see the younger generation also doing planting.
“My niece has a store in Shawnee, Okla. Of course, this is a young man who runs a store. When I went to visit her, I was a little surprised because where I kept a lot of things, she was very gloomy. like pottery and plants , and that was it, and it’s thriving. They were selling root cuttings, which we never would have thought to do. It’s just a whole new generation that’s interested in plants, and it’s wonderful, she said. . “It’s really great.”
Jo Neumeier and Hearn said running their family business helped teach future generations of the family how to grow their own businesses, and that many of them enjoy planting as a hobby.
Neumeier said she was surprised at the public reaction to the daycare closings at the end of July.
“I got letters. One of them said they’re the fourth generation to shop here. That was very touching,” Neumeier said. “I think that surprised me the most, that people were so attached to the nursery, that it meant so much to them. I hate to take it away. I think it was that sense of home.”
Hearn said she thinks people developed personal connections with daycares and staff because of their level of service compared to larger chains.
“You can show up and say, ‘I’ve got all the shade in my yard,’ so that person will take you and go, ‘well that’s all that’s going to work in your yard.’ And then they they box it up, and then they put it in your car, and then they send you up there. So that person, when he comes back, he’s like, ‘I want Tanya, because Tanya knew exactly what I have in my yard. and she knows what will suit.’ So it’s that service,” Hearn explained.
“If we could turn back the clock, we would stay, because we love it. But we’re getting older, and you just can’t do this forever,” Neumeier said. She added that they cannot sell the business because it is also their home.
Jo is 79 and Bill is 82.
Jo Neumeier said they will continue to garden for their own personal enjoyment and will announce on Facebook when they plan to open to the public for photos or just to enjoy the garden. She said she likes Audrey Hepburn’s quote ‘To plant a tree is to believe in tomorrow’ and she hopes the nursery has left that impact on Fort Smith.
“It’s never too late to plant,” she said. “It’s the future, whether it’s for you or someone else.”